Tag Archives: Reading2023

Reading 2023

In a turn of events that surprised even me, I managed to exceed my reading target of twelve books this year.

I managed a decent mix of fiction and non-fiction. More politics than usual, but even that was mostly on the lighter side.

Highlights would be “Jeremy Hardy Speaks Volumes” and “How Westminster Works.” I don’t think any of the books were bad so I’m not going to share a “worst of.” You can see from the notes which ones I enjoyed the most.

I’m going to keep with the twelve book target for next year.

Depraved New World

It’s difficult to come up with a better explanation for what this book is like than the description on the back: Depraved New World (affiliate link) is a worryingly funny collection, which captures British politics at its most absurd. 

It’s a collection of John Crace’s political sketches, originally published in the Guardian, covering October 2021 to June 2023. A pretty eventful time in British politics.

Reading it now, in late 2023, is probably the perfect time. Much earlier and you can’t tell the “good” sketches or consequential events from the average ones. Much later and you’ll have forgotten some of the important details that are being written about. They’re sketches, not analysis of the events or a history. Between the chapters are occasional colour about what was going on, but, broadly, you’re on your own. Political geeks only! Some parts I’d forgotten, but smiled when I recalled. If you’d come across Braverman stepping on a guide dog’s tail on The Thick of It, you’d dismiss it as too unlikely and contrived.

If there’s a trend for the books I’ve read this year, it’s “entertaining but not a classic.” I would put “Depraved New World” in the same category.

The Last White Man

This book (affiliate link) was being promoted by my local council as part of a reading campaign. I’m not sure I would have picked it up otherwise, which, despite my misgivings, would have been a shame.

The story is about the world population spontaneously turning black, and the consequence and effects of that. It focuses on a few characters (Anders and Oona) and how it affects their lives.

The writing is unusual. I hesitate to say bad, because it’s very deliberate, but grating maybe? Each paragraph is effectively one long, run on sentence. I didn’t have the audio book, but I am curious how you’d read it without an inhuman pair of lungs.

This isn’t even the complete sentence.

… and he said it suits you too, and she said, really, and he said, really, and he added, you looked too hungry before, and she asked, and now I don’t, and he said, and now you don’t, and she smiled, and then she smiled again, her smile bigger and bigger.

The dialogue is quite convincing and some of the descriptions are beautiful, but I had a hard time seeing past the structure.

I was unconvinced by certain aspects of world changing. Not the idea of changing, which you obviously have to suspend your disbelief of, but the effects. The characters all assumed that the looks they received and the ways that they were perceived were entirely down to the fact they were no longer white. Is that fair? If you dramatically and overnight changed your appearance, would people not react?

For a short book, it took me a while to read but I’m glad I made it to the end.

Escape

Marie Le Conte is one of my favourite panelists on the Oh God What Now podcast. I thought I should make an effort to read one of her books, hence “Escape” (affiliate link). It is about how Millennials were the first generation to grow up with the internet and how they shaped it.

Whatever you make of the ideas or commentary1, one thing is abundantly clear: her personality shines through. You can hear her speaking every sentence. Fast, slightly scattered thoughts with the occasional random aside. In books of this type, it’s rare to come across lines such as:

Still, that isn’t quite the point I was trying to make

In works with less personality the preceding paragraph would have been edited out!

Another example.

(I’m very sorry, I’m going to have to pause for a moment to childishly laugh at the sentence ‘we were using our fingers instead of our mouths.’)

(Okay, I’m good.)

It’s not pretending to be a serious book, though there are serious points to make. It doesn’t quite hang together as a whole. She describes the chapters as essays, and that’s pretty accurate. Think of it as a collection of loosely related essays rather than a cohesive, single narrative.

The essays cover topics from finding your tribe to dating to how nothing is ever as good as it used to be2.

One of the serious points continues to be very relevant with the recent changes in ownership, and therefore moderation, of Twitter and Tumblr.

All we have now is this tiered internet, where everything non-sexual can co-exist — including racism, fake news, abuse, misogyny and the like — but nipples are beyond the pale.

And apparently I’m a terrible person.

I have been in full-time employment for nine years and I still bristle whenever someone sends me a short message with a full stop at the end.

I’ve seen people sign off their text messages. I don’t do that. But tapping space twice at the end of a text message feels like a small price to pay for have a full stop in the correct place3.

Overall, I quite enjoyed “Escape.” I wouldn’t say that it’s essential reading, or that it uncovers many new and unique insights, but you might find it relatable or funny.


  1. I’m not entirely convinced, personally. As a Gen X, I don’t feel substantially less online than many Millennials. ↩︎
  2. Millenials are getting old. ↩︎
  3. I guess this is the marker of me being Gen X. ↩︎

How Britain Broke The World

Popular opinion is that the whole of the UK was against Blair’s invasion of Iraq. Over a million people marched in London.

I wasn’t one of them.

I’m not sure that I was as politically engaged then as I am now, but the main reason that I wasn’t there was because I wasn’t entirely against the intervention. Sure, I never believed the justifications that they gave. The whole ability to attack in 45 minutes seemed unlikely, and the connection to Al Qaeda didn’t seem plausible either. Blair deserved all resistance he got for such obvious untruths.

So if I didn’t believe in the reasons given, why was I not against the invasion? Because the regime was abusive to its own population. We talk about choices and democracy and representation, but what can people do when they have such a corrupt, oppressive and violent government?

Other countries tend to say it’s not their concern. Does that mean it’s okay to let people suffer because they were unlucky enough to be born in the wrong country? I say no1. The international community has a responsibility to the world’s population, wherever they live2.

I should add that my (limited) support of the policy was about the idea of an intervention. The execution of the idea was clearly a mess, but no one marching knew that.

Anyway, the book.

As I tend to do, I second guess myself. Was my opinion, if not correct then, at least justifiable? If I didn’t know better, should I have known better? I got “How Britain Broke the World” by Arthur Snell to answer that question, and others.

It starts in 1997 with Kosovo and finishes with Brexit in 2021. I do think it strays from the title at times, which comes across as the book equivalent of click-bait. However, it largely answers my questions.

The simple chronological structure helps put the individual events into perspective. I’d forgotten some of them, and the details of many. In the end, I think my opinion on the Iraq invasion is similar to that of many of the interventions: the argument for doing something was there but the execution was poor3.

If there’s something to take away, it’s that we don’t learn.

You can see that because, weirdly, this is a very current book. By which I mean that shortly after reading various sections, I’d come across some contemporary event that was about the same thing. Russia. The Middle East. The US-UK “special relationship.” It’s all there and it’s all ongoing.

I can’t say I’m now an expert on any of these events or situations. It’s all complicated. Many of the challenges we have are from people who are trying to give simple solutions to complex problems4. But I can say that I am better informed than I was. To paraphrase, Donald Rumsfeld, I now have fewer unknown unknowns.


  1. It’s a slightly odd realisation to finally figure out that you don’t believe in the concept of a country. Not as in I deny that they exist, obviously, but in the sense that your potential shouldn’t be constrained by the place you happen to have been born. ↩︎
  2. Deciding what are universal rights has been a challenge, too. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights seems pretty good to me, though arguably it come from a liberal, western perspective so perhaps I would? ↩︎
  3. I realise this isn’t a wholly original take. I’m just slow on the uptake sometimes. ↩︎
  4. That’s Brexit in a nutshell. ↩︎

Wilt on High

Wilt on High” is another one of those books that I read because a number of people said “if you like Douglas Adams, you’ll enjoy Tom Sharpe.” This book was picked arbitrarily by virtue of being available in a second hand bookstore for 50p.

Since it’s the third book in the series staring Wilt and I’ve not read any of the others, there were some references to the backstory that I missed. I don’t think those details were absolutely critical.

Written in the early eighties, there are aspects that have not dated well. There are references that younger readers will miss or not understand. My understanding of some parts was tenuous. And the occasional description, well, let’s just say you might phrase it differently now.

But it mostly stands up. The petty politics and personalities are still relevant and the writing is good. The dialogue, the bickering and characters are all well conceived. The story is a farce, with different threads coming together towards the end. The humour wouldn’t work if the characters motivations and state of mind were not clear. It’s one of those things that looks easier to do than it is, and it appeared effortless here, which I mean as a big complement.

Having said all that, it’s not terribly like Douglas Adams. While humorous, it’s not as clever as Adams and the writing, while good, is not at the same level. The comparison peters out after “funny” and “well written.” Adams’ obsession with digital watches dates his work a little, but Wilt being so firmly set in early eighties Britain does limit its modern appeal.